Farmers and landowners affected by utility work are not always aware of the claims they can make says D&R Land Agent Ian McKnight, and being involved when a utility project is first announced can make a real difference.
Infrastructure schemes, be they with utility companies, or road and rail, or renewable projects, are often complex and involve intricate negotiations. There can also be long term implications, some of which farmers can make a claim for, but may not be aware of.
Ian McKnight has years of practical experience as a farmer in south west Scotland, he also has first hand experience of utility projects on land he farms. In his role as a D&R Land Agent, Ian has been talking, in practical terms, to farmers affected by utility work in the region, highlighting the key elements of compensation and areas that may get overlooked, but still constitute very valid compensation claims.
Commenting on the key issues relating to utility works, Ian said “compensation claims generally fall under four key considerations which are: loss of land use, disturbance, reinstatement and client time.”
Loss of land use and disturbance relate to issues such as crop damage, disruption to field work, lack of access, temporary fencing and crossing issues. Reinstatement is one of the most significant impacts to consider, covering such elements as the cost of fixing gates and fences as well as replanting or reseeding. Ian said “These costs can be far higher than standard cost/acre because the same amount of machinery and set up time is needed be that one, or one hundred acres.”
Whilst the first three areas of compensation are based on what happens to the land, the time farmers spend monitoring, reporting and fixing is often overlooked, underestimated or forgotten altogether.
Ian commented “It is essential that farmers put a value on their time, we urge our clients to keep a diary logging time they spend working on or around the projects. It means an hourly rate can be applied alongside other elements of compensation.
“One of the most important messages we’ve been getting across to those affected by utility work is to engage with an agent at the very outset. In the majority of cases the cost of engaging an agent is met by the utility company. Agents have a breadth of experience to call on, and we are our client’s barometer in terms of the potential issues to be faced and understanding the true going rate that clients are likely to be paid.
“Being involved at the outset makes a huge difference – be that negotiating to adjust infrastructure routes, agreeing suitable mitigation measures and equipment, compensation and potentially including injurious affection (the negative impact on your wider/remaining property). Projects are often long and protracted, so it is important to consider wider impacts and any potential unforeseen consequences that may impede existing, and future alternative uses of the property.”
Davidson & Robertson is aware of multiple network rail, gas, water, and electric projects. There are huge electricity pylon renewal projects right across Scotland and other lines that are due to be upgraded to higher voltages. This requires restringing of lines, new insulators and potentially work to foundations that often require temporary roads to be installed.
There are also new power lines needed, plus renewable developments requiring grid connection or battery storage. These are new commercial negotiations, not a standard energy company wayleave, and those affected should seek to negotiate. A cable in the wrong place, with wide rights, may sterilise any alternative future alternative land use.